I won’t beat around the bush: cooking involves lots of work. From store to prep to skillet to plate–it’s no easy task! Here’s a round of tips that will help you (at least a little bit) with each of these steps.
Store: For the past week or so, several Tablet staff members have dared to join the enviable ranks of Birthrighters by staffing and blogging about a Birthright trip while they’re on it. So far, they’ve offered two major pieces of advice in regard to food. The first: don’t order pizza from Domino’s in Jerusalem. The second: “How (not) to Bargain in the Israeli Marketplace.”
Prep: Do you hate it when people serve vegetable platters during cocktail parties or as an appetizer? Do you also secretly wish you could serve one and get away with it? Serious Eats, the ultimate guide to junk food, sandwiches, and helpful cooking tips, is here to help with a “How to Put Together an Awesome Vegetable Platter” guide.
Skillet: I have a confession: making the perfect panna cotta has never been a concern that’s kept me up at night. But, if you are one of the (many?) people with this problem, the LA Times has a solution for you! Read on for the three key elements for “Cracking the Code of Panna Cotta.” Just don’t forget to stock up on Kosher gelatin as you experiment.
Plate: This link actually combines a few different tips, but ultimately it’s about presenting a beautiful layer cake to impress your friends and family. As usual, Food52’s Kitchen Confidence post “Mastering Layer Cakes” does not disappoint, with descriptive prose coupled with step by step pictures of the whole process.
After a short hiatus while giving birth to a healthy baby girl, I am so happy to be back writing about food (and drinks) again! And since its been more than 10 months since I’ve had the chance to enjoy some alcohol I thought what better to write about for my first post back other than my favorite summertime drink: sangria, or as my friends have started calling it “Shan-gria.”
Sangria is easy to make and can be improvised either from whatever fruit and wine you have in the house, or whatever fruit is in season and strikes your fancy. While I love making sangria year round, my favorite time of year for sangria is definitely summertime when I am already hankering for something refreshing and fruity, and when berries and peaches are in season – my favorite ingredients for sangria!
The most common question I get about making sangria is: “What wine should I use?!?”
The truth is you can really use any wine that you like, but lighter wines, both red or white, are typically better for the base of sangria. I don’t normally suggest using Moscato wine but if you already like sweet wine then go ahead and indulge with the Bartenura Moscato as a sweet, bubbly sangria base. Looking for something more traditional and dry? Try the Baron Herzog Pinot Grigio instead.
You can substitute red wine or even a rosé for the white wine in the recipe below. Also try improvising on different combinations of fruit depending on what is fresh.
Happy summertime drinking!
A little late on the delivery, but, as promised, here is a follow-up guide to menu planning. An easy way to begin your menu is by picking a theme–anything from spring to grilling to Mexican. But picking a theme isn’t a requirement for a great menu. Follow these four rules and you’re sure to come out on top!
1. Color– a dinner that features foods of many colors accomplishes two goals, one aesthetic and one nutritious. A plate with many bright colors is more attractive and more appetizing than a plate of all brown or white foods. It also means you are hitting a wide array of nutrients by eating the rainbow (not the Skittles variety).
2. Texture–it’s important to vary the textures in a meal to keep your guests’ mouths and minds interested in the food. While serving a pureed lentil soup, mashed sweet potatoes, and pudding for dinner may hit a variety of colors and nutritional sources (protein, carbohydrate, etc.), it will be boring to eat. Even in a single pureed dish, it might be a good idea to throw something crunchy into the mix, like some spiced nuts on top of the pudding.
3. Cooking method–again, the emphasis here is on variety. You could make a meal of four different types of stewed dishes, but I would recommend mixing it up with something a little lighter, too. It’s also a good idea to have some kind of raw vegetable at every meal, like salad or crudites. By using different methods like braising, sauteing, steaming, boiling, and frying, you’re meal will be more engaging and satisfying.
4. Flavor–of course the most important aspect of a well executed meal is that everything taste good! But just like the other “rules,” you want there to be a mix of flavors as well. While a meal consisting entirely of sweet foods (beet salad, corn, honey-glazed chicken, and babka, for example) sounds delicious and would be fun to eat, most likely you’ll come away from the meal feeling sick and/or unfulfilled. Try to include savory, spicy, sour, bitter, tart, salty, and umami in addition to sweet.
This week’s menu is a collection of recipes that inspired me this week. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
The best way to impress your guests: homemade gnocchi. It’s a lot easier than you think, but it does take patience. Try this gnocchi with fava beans, garlic scapes, and basil as an appetizer that showcases seasonal ingredients. If you’re making a meat meal, the butter is definitely optional for this recipe.
When it comes to poultry I love dark meat and these grilled mediterranean chicken thighs look flavorful and juicy. Perfect.
Go crazy and fry asparagus. Seriously–it’s amazing. And top it off with a flavorful miso dressing? Hello! Get all of this and more from Nobu’s fried asparagus with miso dressing.
Cool down and take yourself to a tropical paradise with this mango sorbet. The rum keeps the sorbet creamy and adds a subtle depth to the flavor. You can also make popsicles with this recipe. Serve with fresh berries and you’re set!
When I have the urge to travel it’s often motivated by a particular food I’m craving. For example, I would absolutely get on a plane to South America for granadilla. Or to Italy for fresh mozzarella. Or to Cincinnati for Graeter’s ice cream. Or to Israel for labneh.
While you can get frozen granadilla and fresh mozzarella and Graeter’s almost everywhere in the U.S., I’ve been hard pressed to find good labneh on this side of the Atlantic.
Labneh is is a Middle Eastern cheese made from yogurt. It’s commonly rolled into balls, served with extra virgin olive oil, or used as condiment with cucumbers, tomatoes, and pretty much any other vegetable found in the shuk. Both a breakfast staple and an anytime snack, labneh is creamy, tangy, and versatile. Labneh is also full of health-boosters. Since it gets strained, labneh has less sugar and carbhoydrates than other dairy products, while still retaining a significant amount of protein. Because it is made from yogurt, labneh is full of probiotics. It also happens to be the easiest cheese to make yourself.
Many cheeses require heat, thermometers, rennet, or other accessories. Labneh needs only 2.5 ingredients: plain yogurt, salt, and cheesecloth. I say 2.5 because the salt is somewhat optional. I’ve made labneh just by dumping yogurt into cheesecloth and hanging it up in my fridge.
Now that I have my own stash of labneh in the fridge, I have to come up with a new excuse to travel.
Do you have a food you’d hop on a plane for?
3 cups yogurt
1 teaspoon sea salt
In a small bowl, mix the yogurt and salt.
Gently pour the mixture into two-three layers of cheesecloth. Collect the ends of the cheesecloth and tie up the "package," hanging it in your fridge over a bowl.
Serve with a drizzle of great olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh herbs or za'atar.
Leave the pouch hanging in the fridge for 12-24 hours. Store the final product in an airtight container. You can save the whey (the liquid left in the bowl) for future projects.
My dad’s not much of a foodie. Well, he likes food, but he’s perfectly fine sitting back and letting the food come to him. So when I started thinking about where to go for food-related Father’s Day gift inspiration there was only one person to do the job–my Uncle Duke. Below, I’ve listed the top five gifts that would make his foodie-heart sing (take note, Zach, Ali, Lindsay, and Mollie!).
1. Knives. I’ve talked about this before and while I argued (and still maintain) that you only need a couple of knives, it’s still fun to have a new one peeking out of the block. As my uncle put it, “While I have many good to great knives, I am always thinking I could use another.” Besides, the point of Father’s Day isn’t to get him something he needs, but something exciting. What’s more exciting than a really sharp piece of metal?
2. Smoker. You may have noticed from reading my posts that I’m not a big meat eater, but according to the stereotype, men can’t get enough. If you want to go all out on your gift this year (or maybe combine it with his birthday, Hannukah, next Father’s Day…) get your grill-loving dad a smoker. “Great for meat of any kind and many cuts, as well as fish, chicken, turkey breasts, etc. Low and slow as they say.”
3. Spices, salts, oils, vinegars, etc. Can it be Father’s Favorite Oldest Daughter’s Day? This is a gift I’d be all over. These are “a great way to change up dishes and make them uniquely ‘yours,’ so they are fun to experiment with and make things more interesting. Some of this can be rather expensive… so [it's a] splurge that many home cooks may not make for themselves!” If your dad is going to be doing some exotic traveling soon or just got back from a trip, this could be a fun way for him to play with regional dishes.
4. Enameled cast iron. Some chef’s swear by cast iron and there’s nothing like it for browning meat or making stews. My uncle actually bought himself a ribbed skillet (“making the best [indoor] burgers we’ve ever had”) and a stock pot with a gift card he got for Father’s Day last year (always a good gift!). “Not typically summer items, but I’m glad I now have them in my arsenal!”
5. Wine. “A great bottle of white wine (or two) to enjoy while you are cooking! One of my favorite things to do is spend [an] afternoon cooking while enjoying wine and Aunt Stacey, when I can get her, or a friend.” I think he says it all on that one.
While it can be a stressful time for the children involved, Father’s Day is a great time to get creative and give your dad a special treat. Whether you go for any of these ideas or come up with your own, you better get going–Father’s Day is just around the corner!
If you are frequent reader of The Nosher, chances are you like to cook. And not only do you like to cook, but you probably also like hosting. I bet you may even be hosting Shabbat dinner tonight.
A lot goes into hosting a meal and even though we stress about who is going be there and what the table looks like, ultimately the most important part of the meal is, of course, the food.
Making good menus is a work of art. It means everything is tasty and goes well together, but it also means there is balance. You could make corn chowder, tilapia filets, and mashed potatoes that all taste phenomenal, but your plate will be white and your body unappeased.
There are so many ways to think about how to create a complete and wholesome meal. As Jews our menus tend to reflect both the calendar (traditional holiday foods) and our ancestry (matzah ball soup for the Russian Jews and borekas for the Turkish Jews–lucky me, I get both!). The Chinese have a Five Phase model; in Ecuador lunch is always preceded by a soup course and dinner is usually instant coffee; the macrobiotic diet looks at food as expansive and contractive; many people follow the Indian balance concepts of Ayurveda. The Western media typically just labels foods as “good for you” or “bad for you.”
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting a few simple checks and balances to help you make delicious and balanced menus for you Shabbat dinner tables and normal weekday eating.
Yesterday I got my first summer crop of CSA goodies. Strawberries! Baby lettuce! Thyme! Asparagus! (Okay, I hate asparagus so that’s not making me excited…but strawberries!)
Let your produce shine this Shabbat by making a harvest salad with a light lemon and olive oil dressing. For inspiration, go to one of my all-time favorite lists: Mark Bittman’s 101 Simple Salads for the Season. Come August, I recommend the peach and tomato salad. Highly nontraditional, but fabulous.
Another great way to add some freshness and crunch to your meal: cole slaw! And I’m not talking about your local deli‘s mayo-drenched cole slaw. (Full disclosure: it’s actually my recipe, over at Jewcy.)
When all else fails, Martha’s always got your back. At least that’s my motto. Her chicken with artichoke hearts is moist, flavorful, and takes advantage of the tail end of artichoke season–just leave off the feta!
Nothing says summer like a sugar snap pea straight from the vine. If you can’t make that happen, you’ll want to go to the store to make this sugar snap and snow pea stir-fry. Appease your vegetarian guests with the protein from the cashews.
Heidi Swanson’s Blueberry-Lemon-Verbena pie sounds lovely and I love that she adds in some rye flour to the crust to make it a little nutty. If you are looking for a pareve recipe, just swap in some solid refined coconut oil instead of butter.
Celiac disease and gluten intolerances have been ignored and under-diagnosed for years, but these days it’s hard to miss. Labs have seen a jump in requests for blood tests and it is now estimated that somewhere around 18 million Americans are sensitive to gluten.
Gluten is an insoluble protein in wheat, rye, and barley, among others. Because it is somewhat elastic, it helps to leaven and build structure in baked goods. It’s also hard for the human digestive system to handle. For most people, their bodies persevere and move on with their days, but for others eating or coming in contact with gluten can have a major impact.
Gluten intolerance is a toxic, negative reaction to gluten. It can often be dealt with through slight avoidance, indulging on occasion and not being stringent about gluten in non-food products like toothpaste and paint. Celiac, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disorder, in which the body builds up antibodies against gluten every time the person comes in contact with the protein. After a while, the intestinal villi are destroyed and become incapable of absorbing nutrients, which leads to blood toxicity. In short: if you think you might have a gluten intolerance, it’s a good idea to check it out before it gets out of hand. While many people have jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon as a fad, those who actually suffer from gluten experience a wide range of serious symptoms.
People often are nervous about making food for friends who can’t eat gluten and while it’s true that the diet can be challenging and expensive, it doesn’t have to be so far from the food you are used to. Many who switch to gluten-free lifestyles actually eat healthier, because they make more room in their diets for vegetables, fruits, and wholesome foods. Try the recipe below for a great granola that happens to be “GF”–just make sure to buy gluten free oats for those who have severe sensitivity.
If you’re looking for a new challenge as a baker, pulling off a tasty gluten-free treat is rewarding and much appreciated by people who don’t eat gluten. There are so many incredible whole grain and legume flours out there to experiment with–make this your excuse! Keep in mind that without gluten, breads will need more yeast, eggs are crucial for binding, and you may need more fat or fruit puree to keep it moist. Make sure you eat or freeze your baked goods right away, since gluten-free items have a short shelf life and lose moisture quickly.
Resources to check out:
The Gluten Free Gourmet by Betty Hagman
Gluten Free Baking by Rebecca Reilly
Gluten Free Girl and the Chef by Shana James Ahern
4 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup unsalted raw almonds, roughly chopped
1/2 cup Grade A maple syrup
1 spoonful raw honey
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup dried apricots, cut in strips
1/4 cup dried medjool dates, roughly chopped
Preheat the oven to 375° Farenheit.
Mix oats and nuts in a large mixing bowl.
In a separate, smaller bowl, whisk maple syrup, honey, and coconut oil. Pour over oat mixture and mix until evenly coated.
Spread mixture onto a full sheet pan (or two half sheet pans) in an even layer.
Put the tray in the oven and check regularly, stirring the oat mixture to avoid burning. Remove when golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. The granola will not be hard at this point–that happens as it cools.
When the mixture has cooled a little, fold in dried fruit. When completely cooled, store in an airtight container.
No matter your news source, food is in every type of media outlet these days. We want to know where our food comes from, what it’s made of, who made it, how to do it ourselves, what to call it… the list of ways to talk and think about food is endless. Here are a few recent stories that span the spectrum of food articles:
NPR put out a story over radio waves about the timeless summer camp/college dorm room debate: Pop, soda, or coke?
Are natural sweeteners like stevia good or bad? Marion Nestle, professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and professor of Sociology at NYU, takes a look at some of the research in her blog, Food Politics.
Hazon, the organization that is taking on Jewish food systems and the environment, started a new program in the Bay Area last year called Home for Dinner with the goal of encouraging families to cook and eat dinner together and think about their food. Judith Belasco, Director of Programs at Hazon, lays out some of the reasons she thinks this is such an important issue.
New York’s Mayor Bloomberg has never hidden his agenda against soda/pop/coke in New York as part of his anti-obesity efforts. It started with ads picturing cups full of fat in the “Pouring on the Pounds” campaign, now he’s going after super-sized drinks and people aren’t too pleased.
Speaking of New York, pets there are apparently as snobby about food as their parents.